I have a confession to make… There are certain hymns that I just can’t stand. These aren’t complicated, hard to sing hymns either. No, I mean that there are classic hymns whose lyrics drive me crazy. Why is my ire directed at these church favorites? Because they reflect a spirituality that I just don’t understand. A spirituality that even confuses me. They reflect a spirituality that seems to skip over the extreme difficulty of this whole faith thing. By skipping over that difficulty we confuse and isolate a lot of people; especially in the so called “Millennial generation.”
Hymns like Go My Children, with My Blessing drive me crazy because we sing in verse two “Go my children sins forgiven, at peace and pure.” Frankly, while my sins are definitely forgiven I am rarely at peace and pure. Well known favorites like Blessed Assurance are hard for me to sing because we sing in verse three “perfect submission, all is at rest; I in my savior am happy and blest…” I don’t think I have perfectly submitted to anything in my life, not even my call to be pastor.
Those problems that I have with those are, of course, all personal problems and not really problems with hymns, but here is where I am going with this: About two months ago I asked a lot of people in my generation why they stayed in Church. Those answers were many and various and I have been reflecting on them ever since. Honestly, you can’t generalize about an entire generation, but the answers I got often described a difficult relationship with the church. Those answers are not sappy love letters to an institution that always happy. Those answers are not in the theme of “perfect submission, all is at rest…” Instead those answers, my own included, reflect a lot of struggle with this thing we call church. Instead of declarations of eternal loyalty many of those answers told a story of struggling to stay, leaving, and coming back.
What does that mean for all of us? What does that mean for us as a church? For my generation? For the people involved and the people who are absent? I wouldn’t be Lutheran if I didn’t state my response in terms of law and gospel.
The Law is that word which is supposed to convict us of our faults and sins. For those of us in the Church the Law those responses from my generation is this: somewhere along the way we either forgot to mention, or failed to express, how difficult and truly agonizing this whole Church business can be. Somehow we gave the impression that faith is always a clean thing. In the end what seems to have been learned was that being a part of the church and genuinely struggling were opposites. For those in my generation who are outside of the Church the Law is this: we forgot that it is possible, and dare I say necessary, to be part of an institution and still struggle with what that institution stands for.
But here’s the gospel, the good news, in all this: The story we believe, That Word of God, is all about struggle. In a certain way Blessed Assurance is wrong. The Bible is not about “perfect submission all is at rest.” Instead the Bible is about Abraham and how his family and descendants are the most dysfunctional family in human history. The story is about how Israelites constantly complain to God, about how the disciples are constantly afraid and never get it, and about how Paul kills Christians and yet is called. After all, our God is the God who spends all night wrestling with Jacob (Genesis 32:22-32). Our message is a message of God who is present in struggle (Matthew 18:15-20).
I had a professor in college who, whenever the sermon was going bad in chapel, would lean over to me and say “Mr. Kamphuis… remember this: just tell the damn story.” Our story is a story of struggle. Perhaps it is time that we tell it.